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Stai-Johnson v. Johnson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 28, 2015

Deanne M. Stai-Johnson, f/k/a/ Deanne M. Johnson, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Mitchell R. Johnson, Defendant and Appellee

Page 824

Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Scott A. Griffeth, Judicial Referee.

Maureen Holman, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.

James R. Brothers, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellee.

Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J.

OPINION

Lisa Fair McEvers, J.

Page 825

[¶1] Deanne Stai-Johnson, formerly Johnson, appeals the judicial referee's order denying her request to move out of state with the child over whom she has primary residential responsibility. We affirm, concluding the judicial referee's findings

Page 826

on the Stout-Hawkinson factors were not clearly erroneous.

I

[¶2] Deanne Stai-Johnson and Mitchell Johnson were married in 1998. The parties had two children during their marriage, R.S.J. and J.M.J. Johnson was in the military and the parties resided in various locations, before moving to Fargo in 2009. Stai-Johnson and Johnson divorced in 2013. Stai-Johnson was awarded primary residential responsibility of the younger child, J.M.J., and Johnson was awarded primary residential responsibility of the older child, R.S.J. On February 11, 2014, Stai-Johnson filed a motion requesting permission to move out of state, with J.M.J., to Kelliher, Minnesota. In an affidavit in support of the motion, Stai-Johnson alleged she sought to be closer to family, wanted to obtain employment and further her education in Bemidji, Minnesota, and the schools in Kelliher would benefit J.M.J. Johnson opposed her motion to relocate.

[¶3] At the hearing on the motion to relocate, Stai-Johnson, Johnson, and an extended family member of Stai-Johnson testified. Stai-Johnson testified she could obtain better jobs in Bemidji, if relocation was permitted. Stai-Johnson testified one of the jobs she applied for in Bemidji offers free college credit at Bemidji State University, which would allow her to obtain a masters degree in business administration. Stai-Johnson also testified the school J.M.J. would attend in Kelliher is a good quality school that would be more affordable, as J.M.J. currently attends a private school. Additionally, Stai-Johnson testified another benefit to the move would be that she would have the added support of her extended family members, who live in Kelliher, and both teach at and attend the school J.M.J. would attend. Finally, Stai-Johnson testified the Kelliher area offers numerous outdoor activities for J.M.J. Johnson testified that J.M.J. already participates in the same outdoor activities that Stai-Johnson asserted are available in Kelliher, in Fargo with his father and brother. Johnson testified the schools in the Fargo area are of a good quality and offer various advanced placement courses. Johnson testified as to his concerns regarding his reduced parenting time with J.M.J., if relocation occurs. Johnson testified J.M.J. and R.S.J. have a close relationship and attend each other's activities. However, Johnson testified he was concerned J.M.J. and R.S.J. may not see each other as often, if relocation was allowed, because R.S.J. and Stai-Johnson have a strained relationship.

[¶4] The judicial referee denied Stai-Johnson's motion requesting permission to move out of state, concluding the move was not in the children's best interests. Particularly, the judicial referee found the school system and extracurricular activities in Kelliher did not offer a greater advantage to J.M.J., Stai-Johnson's commute to work and school would require her to be away from J.M.J. for an extended period of time each day, J.M.J. would lose parenting time with Johnson, and R.S.J. and J.M.J. would have diminished time, proximity, and personal contact together if relocation was allowed. ...


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